If Pecha Kucha is Japanese for “chit-chat,” what’s Japanese for, “Holy shit, why did we agree to do this?”
That’s the thought that occurred to me when Sean Healy and I decided we would give a presentation at Edmonton’s Pecha Kucha 9 at the Royal Alberta Museum on March 4th.
Pecha Kucha is a presentation format based on concision. Presenters are allowed to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each. The result is a very brief six minute and 40 second presentation based on any topic you can imagine.
The process for giving the presentation we gave at PKN9 (which you can see embedded at the bottom of this post) started in my office when I was talking with a colleague about Edmonton’s inferiority complex. Edmonton’s embarked on some pretty ambitious projects aimed at not only making it a better city for its residents, but that will also attract new business verticals, new leaders, and new opportunities for everyone. And yet some people insist on shitting on this new direction, for a variety of reasons I don’t believe merit sticking to our traditional sprawling ways.
Originally, I’d planned to present something myself at PKN8, but I completely chickened out at first. I decided I was “too busy” — which many of our readers and anyone who’s seen me speak publicly will know is something I believe to be a weak excuse; everyone’s busy.
So I bought myself time by chickening out, I guess. And thank the gods I did.
I gave me the opportunity to speak with Sean, and develop an even more fleshed out concepts.
Over beers one night, Sean and I decided it would be fun to take the piss out of the people who don’t seem concerned about, or are in favour of, urban sprawl and some of the issues related to same. And of course, since Sean and I are both huge zombie fans, we knew that we needed to produce a satire that evoked the horror culture monsters.
When the call for presenters came out for PKN9 in January, Sean and I pulled the trigger: on a presentation praising new city initiatives by making fun of them and lording the threat of a zombie apocalypse over our audience.
And then, like all creative types, we did nothing about it for about a month.
When February rolled around, it occurred to both of us we needed to get started on our presentation. The fire was lit beneath both our asses when we were emailed and told we needed to submit our 20 slides for the presentation. We spent a few hours working on an outline and sourcing creative commons-licensed images — and huge thanks to Mack Male, Joel Jackson and Chris Neuman for allowing us to cherry pick from their flickr photostreams.
With photos picked, we had to write a script. This took the better part of an evening. And even when we were done, there were still a lot of revisions to be made. We asked colleagues of ours to help out — as long as they promised never to speak about the premise of our talk. Huge thanks to Joel, Catrin, Justin and Chris for their great feedback on our script.
We spent about half a week after script revisions just reading out loud, trying to assess the timing of our slides. We finally got it down… we thought. But it seemed like every time we practiced with our slides running in the background, the timing changed dramatically. This is when I realized how tricky these kinds of presentations can be. Forgetting a few words, saying something differently, forgetting a piece of the script are all major contributors to throwing off a presentation’s timing. A few seconds off for a few slides, and it can really mess with things.
Sean and I had a pretty ambitious script that relied on the precise timing of some slides to the words we were saying. If you watch the livestream embedded below, keep an eye out for the Butterdome slide and test pattern slide. Those both required precise timing that we never consistently got in rehearsal. So actually seeing it work when we presented on Friday was pretty incredible. And scripting and timing things the way we did resulted in a lot of laughs, something I was worried we weren’t going to get.
Sean and I rehearsed with slides, scripts and blocking for two weeks almost straight, except for a break from everything over a weekend. The night before the presentation, Chris and Catrin watched us practice again, and their feedback resulted in even more script adjustments… which I mostly forgot about the night we performed. I was too nervous to remember new information!
By the night of Pecha Kucha, we were very comfortable with the material (aside from those few new lines) and we were able to ad lib on the fly. This lead to some great interactions and reactions in our live presentation, particularly when it came to slagging city councillor Don Iveson.
Don’s a long-time friend of mine and I really do appreciate what a good sport he was. We took some pretty nasty shots at him — none of them were true, of course, which only made it funnier, but I still felt like I was being harsh. And we also took a shot at Mayor Stephen Mandel — but it was all it good fun.
The result is what you see embedded below, the culmination of a month of dedicated work and daily practice. And I’m really happy with it (continued after the embedded livestream).
(Note: to see the beginning of our presentation, start at about 2:20.)
Giving a solid, satirical, and above all funny PKN was a huge personal challenge for me. It’s been a really long time since I’ve done something that required the memorization of a script and giving a really energetic performance like that. We do things like this at work in client pitches sometimes, and they’re exhausting. But they don’t happen every week, thank the gods.
Oh, and that Japanese word I asked about? I think it’s Kamikaze. I felt like that was what I’d done by the end of that night.
Thanks for the PKN volunteers, hosts, and the entire Edmonton Next Gen committee for staging such a spectacular event. To my the other presenters, you were fantastic and inspirational. You all contributed to one of the best Pecha Kucha’s Edmonton’s ever seen.
And huge thanks to Sean for being hilarious and so much fun to work with.